One obvious concern with welding would be the possibility that the bright arc light could injure your eyes. It is true that without proper equipment and caution, welding can cause damage to your eyes ranging in severity from mild to serious. Wearing a welding mask should prevent eye damage.
If you don’t make sure to protect your eyes, you risk:
- Getting flash burns or “welder’s arc”
- Getting cataracts
- Going partially or completely blind
However, preventing damage to your eyes is relatively easy. Read on to learn some symptoms to be on the lookout for, as well as easy precautionary measures you can take against eye damage.
Light Emissions from Welding
When you weld, the light emitted covers a wide range of frequencies, producing visible light, UV (ultraviolet) waves, and IR (infrared) waves. Both can be potentially dangerous to the eye, although IR waves are less likely to pose a threat.
IR waves are part of the light spectrum, located between the red end of visible light and microwaves.
The wavelength of IR waves ranges from 400 nm (nanometers) to 1 mm (millimeter). This translates to a frequency (measured in Hertz, or Hz) of 4.3 x 1014 to 3 x 1011 Hz.
IR waves might cause damage to your eyes in high concentration, but welding generally does not generate IR waves in a vast enough quantity to result in injury. More likely than not, IR waves will hurt your body rather than your eyes.
IR waves only pose a risk to your body if you’re wearing short sleeves or a thin shirt. The heat generated from IR waves can cause first-degree burns if you don’t have proper clothing.
To avoid IR radiation, be sure you’re wearing:
- Thick, long-sleeved clothing
- A welding mask that completely covers your neck
If none of your bare skin is exposed to the welding spark, you should be safe from IR waves.
In addition to IR waves, UV waves are also part of the light spectrum, located between the violet end of visible light and x-ray waves.
UV waves have a wavelength of about 400 t0 10 nm, which equates a frequency of 8 x 1014 to 3 x 1016 Hz.
The primary danger posed to your eyes from welding comes in the form of UV radiation. UV waves are the frequency of lightwaves that causes sunburns. This is why flash burns are common among those that do not take the proper precautions.
Prolonged and repeated exposure to UV waves may lead to long-term vision problems, including cataracts, which can lead to partial or total blindness.
The most common form of eye injury from welding is a flash burn. Flash burns are essentially sunburns that form on the cornea of your eye rather than on your skin. The cornea is the outermost layer of the eye, located in front of the iris and pupil (the colored ring and the black circle in the middle of your eye).
Common flash burn symptoms include:
- Mild to intense pain in your eyes
- Blurry vision
- Heightened light sensitivity
- Watering eyes
- Feeling as though something like a speck of dirt is stuck in your eye
- Eyes are bloodshot
If you experience any of these symptoms and suspect that you have flash burn, then there are some self-care steps that you can take to lessen the pain:
- If you’re wearing contact lenses, remove them
- Wearing sunglasses can help reduce pain (as it helps counteract bright lights)
- Close your eyes or wear a blindfold
- Using moisturizing eye-drops may help soothe pain
- Over-the-counter painkillers are also useful
Symptoms may last for two days, or longer in rare cases. During this time, do not wear contacts and try to avoid exposing your eyes to further UV radiation.
If you are concerned about your vision, then seek out medical attention. An ophthalmologist (doctor that specializes in eye care) can professionally assess the damage to your eyes and the most appropriate way to treat them.
In addition to the methods of treatment that you can use at home, a doctor might prescribe:
- Antibiotic eye drops
- Eye patch
Up to two days after you first notice symptoms, it is advisable to seek evaluation from an ophthalmologist again. Most flash burns will heal within two days, but there is a possibility of complication from infection. In the event of infection, consult with your ophthalmologist for treatment options.
It’s common sense, but it bears mentioning that if you’re seeing spots or experiencing blurred vision, light sensitivity, or intense pain, you should find a friend or family member to drive you to the doctor rather than attempting to drive yourself.
Though scientists have never been able to determine fully and completely why cataracts form, they have linked being overexposed to UV waves with increased likelihood that one will get cataracts.
Eyes that have cataracts tend to look milky and bloodshot. As a cataract develops, the iris and pupil will appear to become eclipsed by a whitish substance.
Cataracts are protein buildups in your eye lens. It has been observed that UV waves contribute to cataract development, so when working with welding tools, protective eyewear is very important.
Some side effects of cataracts include:
- Cloudy or reduced vision
- Loss or lessening of color perception
- Heightened light sensitivity and pain from viewing bright lights
Cataracts are relatively common, and many people develop them naturally as they age. Luckily, cataract surgery is just as common and is successful 95% of the time.
If cataracts develop without correction, then it can eventually lead to blindness.
Damage caused to your eyes from welding, while painful, is rarely permanent.
Flash burns tend to heal within three days at most, so long as they do not get infected. If your eyes do get infected, medical help will often be able to restore your vision to its former clarity.
Moreover, while it is true that cataracts left untreated can eventually lead to blindness, cataract-induced blindness can often be corrected with surgery.
That said, it is of course still important that you treat your eyes properly to ensure minimal injury.
Since UV waves are what poses the danger to your eyes, wearing safety glasses that have UV-protective lenses will greatly reduce the risk that you will injure your eyes when welding.
Anti-UV coated lenses usually prevent up to 99.9% of UV radiation, allowing you to weld without great risk of injuring your eyes. However, the best way to protect your eyes effectively is to purchase a welding mask.
Wearing a welding mask is the easiest way to keep your eyes consistently safe. Some masks are better for certain jobs or people than others, so there are several factors to consider when purchasing one.
Before you purchase a welding mask, ensure that it meets ANSI Z87.1-2003 or ANSI Z87+ standards. ANSI, the American National Standards Institute, gauges the safety of various personal tools. The Z87+ branch of ANSI measures safety in eyewear products.
Safety glasses and welding masks that meet ANSI z87+ standards will have a small “ANSI certified” notice somewhere on the item itself, so you can ensure that your product meets ANSI standards.
Meeting ANSI standards is just one part of purchasing a welding mask, however. There are other factors to consider.
When buying a welding mask, consider the following:
- Mask weight
- Size of the lens
- Fixed or variable shade of lens
Be sure that your mask doesn’t weigh so much that wearing it is uncomfortable. If you weld frequently and for long periods of time, a lighter mask will probably suit you better and be more comfortable in the long run.
Size of the lens
Welding lenses range in size from 4 ¼ inches across to as large as 9 inches across for more industrial models. Mask lenses will average around 6 inches across.
In the event of purchasing a replacement lens for your mask, be sure that the dimensions of your replacement will fit your mask.
Passive lenses have UV- and IR- protective coating that allows you to weld safely. They are not ideal for every job, because the dark tint of the coating can make it difficult to keep track of your work.
Passive lenses have the following disadvantages:
- A project that requires many short welds will be difficult
- Repetitive flipping the mask up and down can lead to neck cramps and fatigue
- Poor timing on the welder’s part may lead to flash burns
Because welding usually requires both hands and the mask’s dark tint decreases your visibility, a welder lowers the passive lens over his or her eyes only after positioning the tools where they need to be. The welder lowers the mask with a fast nodding motion.
Immediately after lowering the mask, the welder will ignite the welding rod and begin the job.
Repeated nodding in this fashion can lead to fatigue and muscle sores, so a job that requires multiple short welds is not ideal with this kind of mask. Furthermore, bad timing can result in the welder igniting sparks before the mask is securely in place, which can cause flash burns.
Holistically, while there is nothing inherently wrong with a passive welding lens, it can be more dangerous to use, especially if you are a beginner. This is particularly true of “tack” jobs, which require repeated starting and stopping in a series of very small, detailed welding jobs and do not lend themselves to easy jobs with a passive lens.
By contrast, auto-darkening lenses are lighter and easier to see through when there is no active spark. As soon as you activate your welding rod, the lens senses the bright light and darkens accordingly, protecting your eyes from the intense brightness and from UV and IR waves.
Since this type of lens darkens on its own, you mitigate the risk of accidentally jostling your tools by snapping your neck down, since the motion is no longer needed.
Many masks with auto-darkening lenses will also have features that allow you to adjust the tint level of the lens, making for versatile masks that you can adapt to different types of jobs, different metals and alloys, and different levels of detail.
A welding mask will generally be powered in one of two ways. Some masks have expendible batteries, and when a mask stops working it simply needs a new set of batteries and it will start working again.
Some masks powered by replaceable batteries have longer lives than others; mask life expectancy can range from four years to up to fifteen years in excellent cases. Life expectancy is affected by the type of mask and the frequency of usage.
A single set of batteries will not last for the entire life of the mask. Batteries will need to be replaced more often if you use your mask frequently.
You can also find “solar powered” welding masks. A solar powered mask has rechargeable batteries that charge using energy from sun or from other light sources, including the welding arc and some indoor lighting.
The sun is the most efficient source of charging energy, but welding arcs and indoor lighting will work, albeit at a slower rate.
Solar powered welding masks generally have lifespans comparable to battery powered masks. The advantage of a solar powered mask is that you don’t have to purchase batteries repeatedly. One potential downside, however, is that solar powered masks that have been in disuse for an extended period of time will have to charge up before you can use them again.
Battery Powered vs Solar Powered
If you aren’t sure whether you should get a battery powered mask or a solar powered one, consider the following.
- Easy to use on a rainy day or indoors
- Lasts, on average, eight to eleven years (though this can fluctuate)
- Occasionally needs batteries to be replaced
- No need to ever purchase new batteries
- Can easily last ten years or more
- If left unused for a time, will need to charge before use
In conclusion, while it is true that welding arc light can damage your eyes, treatment is fairly routine and easy. Furthermore, if you take the proper precautions and invest in a high quality welding mask, you will minimize or entirely mitigate damage to your eyes.